Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Forbidden Vancouver

Read more articles by

I took the Forbidden Vancouver Walking Tour with my friend Sharon Rowse this past Saturday night. Sharon writes historical mysteries set in Vancouver and I write historical non-fiction, so we both spend a great deal of time researching Vancouver’s past. In other words, we’re a tough sell for a tour guide. So I was  impressed when I learned a bunch of stuff about Vancouver from Will Woods, a relatively recent transplant from London.

Will worked as a risk management consultant for Deloitte until becoming hooked on Vancouver’s story. He chucked in his job and founded a company that leaves Grouse Mountain and the Suspension bridge to the tour buses, and looks at the blind pigs, riots, crooked cops and bootleggers of Vancouver’s past.

Will hasn’t just researched the city though. He took six months of acting lessons, studied body language, and created a role for himself as an investigative reporter for The World newspaper.

Will’s 90-minute tour starts at Cathedral Square and winds its way through Chinatown, Gastown and the Downtown Eastside. His current themed tour is built around Prohibition (1917-1921) and the crazy laws that it spawned. He’s currently developing another on crime, and fortunately for him, there was no shortage of it.

Will isn’t going after tourists for his tours—although he’s not knocking them back either—but he’s honing in on locals.

It’s a smart move. I’m always surprised at how many Vancouverites have never heard of the Dr. Sun Yat-sen gardens, visited the Space Centre or taken the Stanley Park train. I’d guess fewer still venture through the Downtown Eastside where we wandered through alleys, looked up at the Dominion Building, stood over a former opium den, and poured into a skuzzy elevator in a downtown parkade to get a close look at the Sun Tower.

Will manages to condense a couple of decades of Vancouver’s architecture and our crime ridden past into bite size pieces of information, helped along with gritty old photographs and news clippings that he uses to punctuate his points.  For instance, he says that LD Taylor, the Sun Tower’s first owner and Vancouver’s longest serving mayor, couldn’t rent out office space because the city was so scandalized by the magnificent topless sculptures by Charles Marega.

Will’s tours run every Friday and Saturday night. You can book online at the Forbidden Vancouver website.


Eve Lazarus is a freelance writer with a passion for history and heritage houses. She is the author of At Home with History: the secrets of Greater Vancouver’s Heritage Houses, a member of the North Vancouver District Heritage Commission, and blogs obsessively about buildings and their genealogies at Her next book with house stories of Victoria’s murders, ghosts, brothels, artists and sea captains (not necessarily in that order) will be published this fall.



One comment

  1. And not only was it interesting and historically accurate, Will made this tour fun!  Despite overcast skies and threatening rain, we had a blast wending our way through Vancouver’s own version of the “gritty streets” of an era long gone. It was fascinating uncovering the traces of Prohibition that still exist in our alleys and our architecture… and in our liquor laws. Who knew!